Eileithyia or Ilithyia (pronounced /ɪlɨˈθaɪ.ə/, Ancient Greek: Εἰλείθυια), was the Cretan goddess adopted into ancient Greek religion and myth as the goddess of childbirth and midwifery. Her name does not appear to have an Indo-European etymology, which for R. F. Willets strengthens her link with Minoan culture. "The links between Eileithyia, an earlier Minoan goddess, and a still earlier Neolithic prototype are, relatively, firm," Willets wrote. "The explanation is as simple as it is important. The continuity of her cult depends upon the unchanging concept of her function. Eileithyia was the goddess of childbirth; and the divine helper of women in labour has an obvious origin in the human midwife". Despite lack of consensus about etymology, the variants "Eleuthia" (Cretan) and "Eleuthō" (used by Pindar) suggest a possible connection with "eleutheria" (freedom), in which case the word may simply mean "deliverer", with an obvious association to childbirth. The earliest form of the name is the Mycenaean Greek e-re-u-ti-ja, written in Linear b syllabic script. "Ilithyia" is the romanization of the Greek "Εἰλείθυια".
Hesiod (c. 700 BC) described Eileithyia as a daughter of Hera by Zeus (Theogony 921)—and Apollodorus (c. 180–120 BC) and Diodorus Siculus (c. 90–27 BC) (5.72.5) agreed. But Pausanias writing in the second century AD reported another early source (now lost): "The Lycian Olen, an earlier poet, who composed for the Delians, among other hymns, one to Eileithyia, styles her 'the clever spinner', clearly identifying her with Fate, and makes her older than Cronus.” Being the youngest born to Gaia, Cronus was a Titan of the first generation and he was identified as the father of Zeus. Likewise, the meticulously accurate mythographer, Pindar (522–443 BC), also makes no mention of Zeus:
Later, for the Classical Greeks, "She is closely associated with Artemis and Hera," Burkert asserts (1985, p 1761) "but develops no character of her own." In the Orphic Hymn to Prothyraeia, the association of a goddess of childbirth as an epithet of virginal Artemis, making the death-dealing huntress also "she who comes to the aid of women in childbirth," (Graves 1955 15.a.1), would be inexplicable in purely Olympian terms:
Thus Aelian in the 3rd century AD could refer to "Artemis of the child-bed" (On Animals 7.15).
To Homer she is "the goddess of the pains of birth." The Iliad pictures Eileithyia alone, or sometimes multiplied, as the Eileithyiai:
Vase-painters, when illustrating the birth of Athena from Zeus' head, may show two assisting Eileithyiai, with their hands raised in the epiphany gesture.
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